Statewide effort needed

The fight to protect our natural resources from invasive species has gotten a lot of attention over the past several years.

New York’s trees need similar attention.

Five prominent species of ash tree in the eastern U.S. have been driven to the brink of extinction from years of lethal attack by the emerald ash borer. Tens of millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada have already succumbed, and the toll may eventually reach more than 8 billion, the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently. Ash trees are a major part of eastern forests and urban streets, providing yellow and purplish leaves to the bounty of fall colors. Their timber is used for making furniture and sports equipment like baseball bats and hockey sticks.

The rampage of the emerald ash borer is traced to the late 1990s, when it arrived from Asia in wood used in shipping pallets that showed up in Michigan. Asian trees have evolved defenses against the insect, but the new North American home presented it with vulnerable trees and no natural predators. Scientists have classified five species of trees as critically endangered — meaning they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The change appears on the IUCN’s Red List, considered by scientists the official index of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing. The species are the green, black, white, pumpkin and blue ash. A sixth species, the Carolina ash, was put in the less serious category of “endangered” because it might find some refuge from the infestation in the southern part of its range, which includes Florida, Texas and Cuba.

Jeff Brockelbank, a senior Department of Environmental Conservation forester and member of the Chautauqua County Forest Pest Task Force, recently said DEC officials have seen lots more dead ash trees all over but especially in Jamestown. Brockelbank noted two problems — a lack of money to have an infested tree chipped on-site and difficulty coordinating with various municipalities because many municipalities don’t have anyone in charge of trees. He said it’s hard to create a cohesive communal network in Chautauqua and the surrounding counties when many municipalities don’t inventory their trees or track the presence of pests.

Past approaches to control the emerald ash borer haven’t worked. It’s time to have a coordinated state-wide effort to deal with the invasive pest’s presence in New York state with enough aid to help cash-strapped local organizations deal with the damage.